Monday, September 15, 2003

The Big Description
or - concluding a chapter

trial lecture
I really didn't know how to approach the topic of the trial lecture. But I decided to stick with what I knew, and built my argument around Norwegian peculiarities. That turned out to be a hit. The audience laughed at all the right places. But the swordfighters stole the show. Thinking about it now, that was a daring move. The lecture became "the lecture with the sword fights" and not "Torill's brilliant lecture on LARP". However, the fights illustrated My points so well that it didn't really matter. Just the sound of steel when it slid out of sheats as opposed to rubber as it thumped against velvet demonstrated the differences in approach. And I found that wonderful description of professional wrestling by Roland Barthes, in his Mythologies, as well as Victor Turner's distinction between liminal and liminoid.

Yes, I was nervous, as the headmaster of the College and the dean from University of Bergen both opened the lecture with little tiny speeches. But the sword fighters made me relax: stepping aside for a moment, to enjoy their show, was a very good way to distance myself from the need to entertain the audience. Laughing at their antics as Brigt Ove crawled across the floor, pulled himself to his feet and stabbed Trond over and over and over again was a release too, not just for the audience, who needed a touch of comic relief, but also for me. Ten years ago I might not have felt secure enough as a lecturer to let them have six whole minutes of such an important lecture, but today I am really happy I didn't try to add an other two pages.

I timed it almost perfectly: 46 minutes, when it should have been 45 - the dean from Bergen congratulated me on that. T.L. later told me they had given me the topic because they really wanted to see me lecture on it, with a sneaking suspicion that I might be a good lecturer. And she also said they were not disappointed.

I returned from that lecture to a house that was in a perfect state of chaos. I don't want to know about all the things that happened in the many corners of the house during the most hectic periods. Somebody have spilled baby food in the ceiling. There are plants I have been looking for since Saturday. And not a single clean towel left.

Life with sisters means life with constant critics of what you wear. This has developed a certain conservatism in me: stay as simple and unremarkable as possible. In order to be certain I had what I needed for the defense, I actually had a suit tailor made years ago, aiming towards the test lecture and the defense. Problem was: I have lost so much weight since then, the suit looked like it was made for a totally different woman. I just couldn't wear it. So now I have this 5000 kr tailor made combination of jacket, trousers and skirt, and all the pieces are just wrong for me.

So, family and friends intervened, and attacked the closet. And they didn't stop at the clothes (final consensus for the defense was reached when they found the dress and jacket bought for a wedding last year), but went on to go through jewelry, shoes and stockings, hunting for the perfect combination. My plans for the trial lecture were approved of (black trousers and red top), but I was not permitted to wear a black jacket to tone it down, and the search for the perfect earrings commenced in consensus over a pair of black heavy dangling pieces that would swing with each movement and frame my face monumentally. Really high heels with the long black trousers, and even my artist sister approved of the length of my legs. I don't know when that happened last...

Quite accurately, T.L. Taylor pointed out that the procession at the start of the defense is like a wedding, (Vigdis Songe-Møller declared that it's more than a wedding) and we all concluded that after this, I'd really be married to my job. The dean comes first, then the candidate, first opponent, second opponent, third opponent. We walked down the stairs at the side of the auditorium while all in the room stood up to honour us. Then we were seated n reverse order: third opponent, second opponent, first opponent, candidate. The dean took her seat at the front, at her own table, from which she could see both podiums as well as the audience.

First opponent
Stuart Moulthrop was first, after my fifteen minute introduction. This was the moment I had been terrified of for years. It had caused me slow down the process of finishing the thesis. It had been the setting of many a nightmare, where I found myself humiliated, publicly shamed and personally ruined. And then he asked about Castranova and the connection between games, economy and the real world. Sly guy! My pulse held approximately the frequency of a bird, and he asked me to think. And he kept up that for 90 minutes, gentle sideways approaches, easing into problems, little lectures about the state of game and theory, and frequent bouts of praise to make sure I knew that he was not the enemy! The concluding question almost threw me off my heels! How did I envision a study of games should be organised? What did that have to do with my thesis? So I turned to the audience, gestured broadly to win an other moment, and entoned: "let me be a little visionary". But like all visionaries, I left out a few things from my vision. I was told so, afterwards... from a sociologist, a sports-teacher, a feminist... yeah, you can imagine. They all want to work in the future Faculty of Games though.

Intermission with food
This is an other of those weird traditions. The comittee, the candidate, the supervisor, the dean (two deans in this case), the headmaster of the college, the administrative head of the college and my immediate family all had lunch. In Bergen this would have been at some nice restaurant. Here it was at the college's VIP room, with a buffét and coffee and cakes. It was weird, but the food was great, the room was filled with happy eager people, and it was a blessing to be allowed to sit down. And no, we did not plan second act - we carefully avoided games at all.

Second opponent
T.L. Taylor is not a big woman, but she has an impressive posture and a natural presence that is disarming and warm. So while my pulse picked up at the beginning of the second round, I didnt' get quite that nervous. She addressed the thesis, theory and methodology, quite frankly and directly. This was when I expected the tough questions, and they came, albeit still veiled in this air of "why don't you just explain this?". The main topic of that conversation was the problems around pleasure and research: How is pleasure, desire and satisfaction a risk while doing ethnography (Or, as T.L. described it: autho-ethnography) or any other research on games? This is one of the most complicated issues in game studies, so it was natural to address it, but it's also not possible to solve in one defense. However, the attempts I made were accepted. Interestingly enough, this is the question that keeps spinning in my head. I may want to make an article on that - or perhaps a small booklet even: "The problems of pleasure in Game Studies." This session was perhaps shorter - or it just appeared shorter. IT was all over at 13.45, 3 1/2 hour after it started.

so how do you feel?
The stupid question that you ask a sportsman as he falls over the finishing line - and the students from the student television threatened to ask that at the party Friday night. I told them I couldn't promise to answer, and to my GREAT relief, they were tactful enough to stay away. But I did really feel great. I felt like I could do it over again. I loved the whole world, including the opponents and Espen, faithful lion but not always as faithful supervisor (I can say it now, Espen has one weakness as a supervisor: he is too popular and takes on too much. There was a long period when all my insistence didn't make him read any of my work, which caused several heavy rewrites at a later stage, with some very intense and not all that pleasant sessions of supervision. His absence was the only real problem, though.)

Today I am not feeling that great. I am numb, not rally clear as to what has happened, and I have no idea about my schedule the next weeks. I have a feeling it's busy, though.

The Party
This really needs a post of its own. Let's just say that wonderfully nice words were said, warm well-wishes were exchanged, and I tried to remember to thank everybody but of course didn't quite succeed. I now have a house that is filled in every room with the scent of flowers: roses and lilies, I have more champagne than I have ever owned, four new and individual champagne glasses to go with the champagne, a new, exclusive pen I would never have bought for myself, and a piece of art that I would never have invested in. The party happened at the hotel in Volda and then moved to my house, and I have no idea what time it is when we squeezed the last drops out of the red wine bottle, sat down to take a breath after a maraton washing up, and enjoyed knowing that the next day, we could sleep in.

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